FlightSafety International is moving to expand and upgrade its helicopter training portfolio substantially, according to David Davenport, vice president of operations.
“Helicopter training has been a high-growth business for FlightSafety for many years. We have always been the factory-authorized training provider for Bell and Sikorsky. We’ve also tried to branch out into highly successful helicopters such as the [Eurocopter] EC135 and [AgustaWestland] AW139,” Davenport said.
FlightSafety is expanding its offerings for the offshore oil services market. Early next year it will begin training operations in its first AW139 simulator, based in Lafayette, La. It is also installing a new S-92 simulator in Stavanger, Norway, with its partner there, Aero Contact.
The company continues to invest in the light-twin and single markets. Its first level-D Eurocopter EC135 simulator was recently added to its Dallas Learning Center.
FlightSafety’s Bell Learning Center, located for years at Bell’s Fort Worth campus, is being moved to the training provider’s Dallas Learning Center–“a much more modern space,” Davenport said.
“We’ve also made a substantial investment in level-7 FTDs [flight training devices] in the wider helicopter market. We’ve built FTDs for the Bell 206, Bell 407 and [Eurocopter] AS350. What we are trying to do with these is to stimulate more dedicated simulator training in the light helicopter market. We see that as a real opportunity given the relatively higher accident rates of light helicopter users. We think we have a real opportunity to improve safety,” Davenport said.
Currently, two level-7 FTDs, for the Bell 206 and 407, are based in Lafayette, La., in support of the offshore helicopter services industry. The AS350 FTD is based in Tucson.
Introducing simulators and FTDs into the light helicopter market has been “a relatively slow go as we have gotten started,” said Davenport. “We are trying to raise awareness of how you can use the simulators and dramatically improve safety in these light helicopters. And we are slowly but surely making progress there with the larger operators, who have decided to come and use these simulators,” he said.
In the light helicopter sector, the relatively small price gap between simulator training and in-aircraft training remains an obstacle to market growth, Davenport said. “The cost of operating the helicopter is low relative to operating the simulator. The simulator is still less expensive, but it’s not like the difference between flying an S-76 and using a simulator. And these [light helicopter] operators tend to be scattered all over the place geographically, so for them it is more of an operational convenience. It’s just easier for them to train in the helicopter than go to a dedicated simulator.”
For now, FlightSafety is focused on tuning the balance for its light helicopter programs. “We are creating programs that meet customer requirements in a cost-effective way and improve overall safety. Some things you still need to accomplish in the aircraft. However, with the simulators you can focus on those things that really make a difference in terms of training and safety. By keeping that focus, I think we can attract more customers,” Davenport said.